Grape Hammock and Westgate River Ranch are only minutes away from a wide assortment of attractions and activities in Central Florida. At Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, a 200-plus-foot pink-and-gray Georgia marble and coquina stone tower was built atop a hill back in the mid-1920s, when rich Northern industrialists found it fashionable to come South, spend the winter, and lavishly spend their money.
Singing Tower carillon at Bok Tower Gardens holds 60 bells ranging from 16 pounds to 12 to
The tower houses a carillon called the Singing Tower, composed of a total of 60 bells ranging from 16 pounds up to 12 tons each. Every day at 3 p.m., the bells chime out a recital across the endless rolling and bucolic orange-grove landscape. Bok Tower Gardens includes 126 acres of botanical gardens and hiking trails that cover Central Florida. This area has been maintained undisturbed and remains as it was 500-plus years ago before Columbus discovered the New World and Ponce de Leon put Florida on the map. Another noteworthy site is Florida’s Natural Growers Grove House, also in Lake Wales. Central Florida is still a huge grower of oranges, and at the Grove House, you can enjoy fresh-squeezed orange juice as you learn about the history of the orange and how it came to be so big in the Sunshine State.
Peacock topiary at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, where guests can enjoy wine tasting wh
Fifteen miles northeast of Lake Wales is town of Winter Haven, the home of Cypress Gardens. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Cypress Gardens was a giant magnet, drawing families to enjoy a true holiday. Today it continues to host the beautiful legendary cypress tree gardens and a waterpark that appeals to the kid in all of us. There’s also wine tasting, featuring only Florida-made wines. Huge topiaries (rabbits, snails, turtles, and peacocks that stand a dozen feet tall) covered with blooming flowers create a kind of botanical Alice in Wonderland.
B-25J Mitchell is one of vintage aircraft on display at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City.
If you’re coming down from Orlando, one attraction worth the few extra minutes it takes to get to is called Fantasy of Flight. Just as with automobiles, almost everyone is enamored of airplanes, and the people at Fantasy of Flight have captured the essence of the history and romance of aviation. This is not an operation that operates on a marginal budget. It is a well-supported attraction that includes more than 40 rare and vintage aircraft, several of which are frequently taken out of the display hangers and flown. The collection includes many legendary aircraft that helped us win WWII: the B26 Marauder, the B24 Liberator, the B17 Flying Fortress, and, sexiest of all, the P51 Mustang. Some on display go all the way back to the 1920s and include not only American aircraft but British, German, Japanese, and Soviet airplanes as well. If you’re so inclined, you can take a biplane and hot-air balloon ride.
Loading up with our cache of Florida’s finest before heading home.
Good eats seem to be everywhere and in every direction. We had some of the finest filet mignon we’ve ever tasted in Lakeland at the Terrace Hotel, and the 32-ounce porterhouse at Texas Cattle Company is in a class by itself. Lang Sun Country Groves is a citrus packinghouse with a down-home-style restaurant called Taste of Florida Café. This is the first time we had ever heard of grapefruit pie, so we tried it -- and it’s excellent! Frank’s Restaurant’s pulled pork sandwich and French-fried sweet potatoes drew us back a couple times before the week was out.
It was easy to get used to the relaxed pace and beautiful scenery while traveling central Florida, and some of that was due to the F-150 that served as our chariot throughout the week. It proved a comfortable and quiet ride that was plenty tough enough for the boat-towing and orange-hauling duty we asked of it while on the road. It did everything we wanted and made completing the tasks seem effortless.
Albino mare admires bed of F-150.
Looking for a bit of hay perhaps? Threesome from the resident buffalo herd on their daily